Social networks now used to abuse, monitor and control women

15 Jun 2011

Various forms of technology are being used by abusive partners to monitor and control women, particularly younger women, such as their mobile phone calls and texts being monitored and social media and technology being used to stalk and control them.

Women’s Aid today reported it received 3,575 disclosures of abuse via the National Freephone Helpline and there have been 48,000 visits to its website – a 52pc increase.

“Leaving a relationship does not always end abuse,” Women’s Aid director Margaret Martin explained.

“Almost a fifth of women continued to be abused, stalked and harassed by former partners. These women disclosed how they are bombarded with texts and calls often telling them, in explicit detail, how they will be attacked or even killed. Some women disclosed that their current or ex-boyfriends were stalking them on social networking sites.”

The Women’s Aid Helpline responded to 10,055 calls in 2010. There were 430 one-to-one support visits and 164 court accompaniments. There were 8,351 incidents of emotional abuse disclosed and 3,031 incidents of physical abuse.

The figures for 2010 indicate that 57pc of calls were by first-time users of the service.

Technology used as a form of emotional abuse

Forms of emotional abuse included women being stalked and constantly monitored both while in the relationship and after they leave; women being harassed continuously by phone, text messages and through social networks; women’s access to internet either curtailed or monitored; women threatened with weapons, threats by the abuser to kill the woman, the children or other family members; women threatened that their children will be abducted and taken overseas and women’s and children’s pets being intentionally harmed in front of them.

“There is a common misconception that violence and abuse only occurs in older and more established relationships, where women are married or living with, and/or have children with their abusive partner,” said Martin.

“Our experience and national and international research shows that young women are also at risk of violence and abuse from their boyfriends.

“In a national survey on domestic violence, almost 60pc of those who had experienced severe abuse in intimate relationships first experienced it when they were under the age of 25. More chilling data from resolved homicide cases show that of the 39 women aged between 18 and 25 years who were killed since 1996, 53pc were murdered by a boyfriend or former boyfriend.”

The figures reflect a recent statement from Keir Starmer, the DPP in the UK which said young women aged between 16 and 19 in the UK are at the highest risk of sexual assault, stalking and domestic abuse, creating a “risk of a whole new generation of domestic violence.”

Martin said one in five Irish women who have ever been in a relationship experience physical, emotional, financial or sexual abuse.

“In 2010, we responded to over 10,000 calls on our helpline. We heard from thousands of women living with abuse and fear. Fear of being choked or strangled, fear of the next beating or cutting remark that is designed to erode their confidence and put them down. Women being gagged to silence their screams. Women whose abusive partners repeatedly threaten to kill them, their children and themselves.

“Jeering the women and telling them not to bother telling anyone – that no one will believe them. All too often, these women feel completely isolated and alone, unaware that there is help available. We know that about one-third of women never tell anyone about the abuse they suffer. Instead, these women try to survive and protect themselves and their children on their own.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years